John Rooney spoke of the spirit and of the craic that there was in the Boat Street where he grew up.
‘Everyone helped one another in time of trouble or bereavement. They also shared the joys of good times like weddings, Christenings, First Communions and Confirmation, Christmas and Easter. All doors would lie open. If someone overslept so that they would be late for work at the mill or factory, or on the docks of Albert Basin, then they were knocked up. If a child came home complaining they had been given a thump by a teacher or another adult, then they would get another clout from their parents, for surely they deserved the first one!’
One of the most esteemed local personalities was Peter Carr. He had had a leg amputated and walked with the aid of two crutches. Universally regarded as Father Confessor because of his congenial nature, with wisdom and compassion thrown in, he was also the point of contact for emigrants from the locality.
Another handicapped resident was Emily McGivern, a familiar figure in her wheelchair, who was always cheerful. Among the ‘characters’ was Paddy ‘Dollar’ Duffy, caretaker of the Independent Club and father of John and Paddy. Another was Jackie Loye, breadserver: Barney Cregan, garage-owner: Owen Reilly, furniture retailer: Sam McMillen, sea-captain: Hugh Grant, lamplighter and actor: Teddy and Noel McLoughlin of St Joseph’s Band: Willie Rafferty, market trader: Paddy Markey, street cleaner: Paddy Rice, father of Bo-Bo: and Billy Grant whose grandson until recently was proprietor of the Ambassador Restaurant.
Little enclaves like Custom House Avenue were also lively communities of their own. Carmel McKeown (sister of Tom the Printer) and wife of Noel Carroll from the Green Road in Bessbrook, recalled being sent by her aunt Minnie Smith to Paddy Rice’s pub for cans of Guinness. These would be drunk with neighbours while they listened to her grandmother reading aloud articles from Ireland’s Own.
Carmel’s great uncle William Burns was a founder member of St Catherine’s Brass and Reed Band, while her uncle Billy Gribben drove a gas-works van. They lived beside the Carr family – Luke, John, Willie, Pat, Davy, Margaret and Lily, and other great neighbours like sea-captain Dessie Keenan and barber Seamus Jennings (Seamus worked in Gormans in Monaghan Street and cut your editor’s hair many’s the time – when he still had hair, that is!).